Re: Common House Design
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Tue, 23 Mar 2021 11:45:16 -0700 (PDT)
There was a question last week about common house design being affected by the 
pandemic. I think the pandemic has highlighted what important in common house 
design that many of us haven’t considered. The dangerous conditions that feed a 
pandemic are dangerous all the time. People would avoid all kinds of things if 
we paid attention to the design of closed spaces.

Air quality isn’t just about chemicals and allergies — it’s about viruses, 
brain functioning, hearing loss, and more.

Because the common house feels like our house, I think we forget that it is a 
space in which large and small crowds gather in intimate proximity for hours at 
a time. But they are not the people we live with everyday. We probably have not 
developed immunity to any of the viruses or other germs they carry. And 
compared to our own household members—probably less than 6-8, a greater number 
will have (1) compromised immune systems and (2) been traveling to places with 
germs to which no one else has developed immunity. 

When Takoma Village was just 2-3 years old and still in the freedom loving 
phase of hand washing dishes as an exercise in togetherness, we had 3-4 people 
who travelled out of the country frequently, and not just to Europe. One 
travelled a few times a year to India where another serious virus was rampant.

I looked around and counted how many people would be affected by strange germs 
floating around in the air.

1. 2 pregnant women.
2. 3 relatively newborns and 6-8 children under six.
3. 3 people over 80, or close to it.
4. 2 people experiencing other severe stressors with jobs or family.
5. 1 with stage 4 cancer, and 1 undergoing optional chemo. 

It is extremely unlikely that this would occur in one household but in a group 
of 80 people that included professionals working in international non-profits 
it was close to typical. Using the dishwasher wasn’t about considering “others” 
a danger, it was the reality.

The NYTimes magazine had an illuminating article a few months ago about why NY 
apartment buildings are so incredibly over heated: the pandemic of 1918. By 
over heating the buildings, health officials could be sure that windows were 
opened and rooms aired out. It was a design decision to prevent another 

Dishwashers were often rejected as a luxury item when the projects were being 
built in the 50s-60s to provide low-income housing in massive numbers. "Surely 
‘they' don’t deserve dishwashers.” But the older doctors said, “Unless we want 
to create a new epidemic of TB, they do.” When they left out garbage disposals 
they had to go back and put them in because of the armies of rats the garbage 

We have forgotten all that, to our potential peril.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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